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date: 08 March 2021

Building Positive Organizations

Abstract and Keywords

In this concluding chapter, we draw together many of the themes that have emerged throughout the volume in relation to positive psychology and work. The chapter begins by noting that positive psychology approaches should not be treated simply as another “fix” for organizational problems, but instead will deliver their greatest promise when they are also used to “build and grow.” We then go on to take the lens of work psychologists and consultants, HR and L & D practitioners, leaders, managers and individual employees themselves, considering the impact and opportunity of positive psychology approaches on each of these constituencies. The chapter concludes by broadening the lens to explore how positive psychology might shape the future of social business, mirroring and extending cultural trends in both employees and consumers alike for the organizational impetus to be about corporate responsibility and social contribution, in addition to profit.

Keywords: Positive psychology, organizations, HR, L & D, leaders, managers, employees, social business

In this concluding chapter, our aim is to provide a framework to understand the impact of positive psychology on the different constituencies involved in building positive organizations. Drawing on the research collated in this Oxford Handbook, we hope to provide points of navigation for researchers, practitioners, and HR professionals, who are striving to build, sustain, and embed positive psychology principles and approaches into their work and throughout their organizations.

As we have worked on this volume, it has become clear to us how quickly positive psychology as a field of both research and practice has gained momentum. As chartered psychologists consulting with organizations, we have noted with interest the speed with which positive psychology has extended from research and into practice. One of the criticisms often aimed at work psychology as a discipline is the gulf that is often seen to exist between academia and practice. Yet, positive psychology seems to transcend this usual divide. Our aspiration is that the chapters in this Oxford Handbook will continue to fuel this transition from research to practice, and from practice to research.

Equally, we are mindful of Warren's critique of positive psychology (Chapter 25, this volume), which examines whether our research and interventions have become imbalanced. Warren asks the question of whether we have misinterpreted the fundamental assumptions and approach of positive psychology research. In doing so, she raises the issue of our applying positive psychology approaches to organizational problems, questioning if by doing so we are generating another organizational bandaid, rather than providing the genuine enhancer of organizational performance (p. 324) and individual well-being that positive psychology offers. This is a very valid point, and is likely shaped largely by the entry route of positive psychology into organizations: the telephone call that essentially says “We have a problem, can you help us to fix it?” It may be too much to ask that this status quo could ever be transcended—but more fundamentally, does it need to be? If being a problem-solving fix is one of the entry routes for positive psychology into organizations, then so be it—as practitioners, we still have myriad opportunities for using positive psychology—in both approach and application—to go far beyond the “fix” mentality to embrace more of the “build and grow” mentality that may be more fitting for positive psychology.

Positive Psychology in Organizations: Where Next and with Whom?

Our work on this volume has also raised a number of questions for us as editors regarding the next steps for positive psychology, and in particular, its applications to organizational life. It also asks questions of organizations and the individuals who work within them, and who are able to influence strategy and direction. There are several consistent themes that emerge across these chapters, themes that relate to positive emotion; employees' needs for challenge and meaning; authenticity; self-awareness; and finally (although this is not an exhaustive list), the role of line managers, leaders, and organizations themselves, in embedding positive psychology into the organizational heartbeat on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.

In this concluding chapter, our aim is to offer ideas and suggestions for how organizations can draw on the pioneering research of positive psychology in order to develop positive workplaces. We will draw on our own experiences as positive psychology researchers and practitioners, and share some of our own client work at the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP). In doing so, we will structure the chapter by adopting the lens of the people who each have a role to play in supporting this development: the psychologists and consultants; the Human Resources and Learning and Development experts; leaders; managers; and employees themselves. Finally, we broaden our lens to explore the potential contributions of positive psychology in the wider business arena, through looking at how it might inform developments in corporate responsibility and the newly-emerging world of social business.

Positive Psychology, Work Psychologists, and Consultants

As a discipline, work psychology has been criticized by its own practitioners for failing to deliver on its promise (Anderson, Herriott, & Hodgkinson, 2001; Hill, 2003). Despite warnings regarding the inevitable limitations of seeing work psychology through an exclusively positive lens (Fineman, 2006), positive psychology has already been criticized for “emotional capitalism” and “providing the apparatus for a kind of “organizational projection,” whereby the organizations remain blameless and appear saintly in “allowing” its staff to learn how to flourish, rather than recognized for operating the conditions for negativity to take such a deep rooted hold in the first place (Warren, Chapter 25, this volume).

Warren's and Fineman's warnings are not unfounded and serve as a reminder to all practitioners working in this area about the importance of taking a blended approach when introducing positive psychology into a corporate setting. In our experience of working as consultants at CAPP, it has been critical to us that we can draw on both longstanding occupational psychology best practice, while blending this with contemporary positive psychology approaches.

Since its inception, CAPP has been supporting organizations to identify, develop, and deploy positive and strengths-based applications. Strengths, a key emphasis in positive psychology, have been promoted through the work of the Gallup Organization (e.g., Buckingham & Clifton, 2001) and through the development of the VIA Classification of Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Extending these approaches, Linley (2008, p. 9) defined a strength as, “a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance,” and it is this definition and approach that has underpinned our work at CAPP.

At the dawn of positive psychology, strengths were often seen as a direct contrast to more traditional methods, such as competencies. In our experience, however, this can be misleading, since when one compares what we are seeking to achieve through strengths, it is not a world apart from McClelland's original work on competencies (McClelland, 1973)—which in itself has been challenged by subsequent evidence (Barrett & Depinet, 1991). For us, the most significant difference is that strengths tend to be more granular, and the observer of strengths explicitly takes account of behaviors such as energy and authenticity.

(p. 325) Recruiting for strengths requires a rigorous job analysis, similar (but not identical) to that used to established competencies. For us, it is important to recognize both when, and why, a competency-based approach falls down. Typically, this is because competencies have diverged from McClelland's original intentions, and have instead, in a futile quest for unachievable simplicity and universal applicability, have become diluted to generic behaviors that span across an organization (Shippmann et al., 2000). Generic frameworks do not have the predictive validity of specific role-based competencies, and yet organizations often unwittingly use them as if they do—and then wonder why the approach isn't working.

For this reason, we are committed to taking a role-by-role approach to mapping strengths to performance-related role outcomes, and it is this rigorous methodology, together with our application of strengths methodologies, that has led to the successes we have seen (e.g., Isherwood, 2008; Stefanyszyn, 2007).

We also believe that it is fundamental that organizations understand and work with weaknesses—dealing with them honestly and head-on, rather than dressing them up as the ubiquitous but facetious “areas for development.” As the strengths research suggests, an individual's greatest area of growth and potential are in their strengths—particularly their unrealized strengths, as we go on to explore below. This one fact alone has shifted the scales on people development to place a greater emphasis on strengths. For us, this does not mean a straight swing of the pendulum from weaknesses to strengths. It does mean, however, that people development should be viewed differently.

At CAPP, we have developed a four-stage model of Realized Strengths, Unrealized Strengths, Unexposed Weaknesses, and Exposed Weaknesses (see

Realized strengths are those strengths that you recognize and use regularly—but there can still be surprises here, in that there may be many things we have as strengths, but which we don't automatically recognize and accept as such (Kaplan, 1999).

Unrealized strengths are those strengths that may be lying dormant in us, waiting for the opportunity to arise or for the right situation to call them forth (Lyons & Linley, 2008).

Exposed weaknesses are those weaknesses that are out in the open and causing you problems. As we go on to explore below, these are the weaknesses that need to be most effectively managed to make them irrelevant.

Unexposed weaknesses are those weaknesses that could trip you if the situation or context changed, but at the moment that are safely irrelevant to what you need to deliver. As long as they are kept that way, they can be safely ignored. But if the situation changes and they are pushed into the foreground (becoming exposed weaknesses) then they will need to be managed quickly and effectively if performance is not to be undermined.

As this model reveals, we place substantial emphasis on your unrealized strengths being your greatest area for development. We do not believe it is enough to simply know your strengths and use them more. In our experience, few people know how to use their strengths more, and managers certainly are not always equipped with the language or expertise to recognize or grow strengths in themselves or in others.

In the Realise2 model, there is an explicit focus on weaknesses—and what we need to do about them. First of all, in line with the principle of authenticity, we believe in referring to weaknesses as “weaknesses.” It never fails to surprise us how many organizations have invested in “honest performance conversation” workshops, and yet have failed to empower their managers to use the word “weakness,” plumping instead for the more politically correct euphemism of “areas for development.” Through our Making Weaknesses Irrelevant model (Linley, 2008), we provide individuals with an understanding of how they can manage their weaknesses, with the eventual aim of making them irrelevant (see Figure 26.1).

 Building Positive Organizations

Figure 26.1 Making weakness irrelevant. Adapted from Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press. Reproduced with permission.

Another question we are often asked by our clients is “Where should we begin?” CAPP has certainly had success introducing strengths-based and positive approaches at both grass-roots (bottom up, e.g., Stefanyszyn, 2007) and board level (top down, e.g., Smedley, 2007). Two things, however, have become increasingly clear to us in our work. First, is that there is not necessarily any right answer as to where is the best place to begin—except the answer that is right for that organization at that time, with this “right answer” being shaped by myriad forces, factors, and considerations—all of which form an integral part of the initial consulting engagement at the outset. Second, is that for organizational positive psychology and strengths-based approaches to really have traction, they need to be explicitly linked to—and designed to deliver—the (p. 326) organizational strategy and objectives. When strengths are aligned with strategic objectives, the right place to begin often becomes obvious—and then the work of application and implementation can rightly begin in earnest.

Together with this realization that positive psychology and strengths-based applications are best applied in support of a clear organizational strategy, it is also important to recognize that a positive workplace cannot be built through one-off activities in isolation, but only through an organization's commitment to the process. For example, in a study conducted by Pritchard (2008), comparing strengths-based team building events with team building events using approaches such as the MBTI, it was found that when participants took part in one-off strengths-based team builds, they achieved significantly higher ratings from participants immediately after the program; but post training, a participant's capacity to embed their learning back into their work was significantly less successful than more traditional approaches.

This research should come as a warning to practitioners who might automatically want to draw on positive psychology approaches as a new way of delivering team building events or one-off coaching assignments (but see Grant and Spence, Chapter 14, this volume, for the effective use of positive psychology in organizational coaching). If positive psychology is going to deliver on its promise, then we would suggest that it has the best chances of doing so when it is considered as part of an integrated culture change process, rather than a faddish quick fix. Pritchard's research also highlights the importance of practitioners in supporting organizations to embed and sustain positive work approaches, so that any interventions are maintained beyond the period of the implementation, and become ingrained in the fabric of an organization, ultimately becoming the status quo of “the way we do things around here.”

Positive Psychology, HR, and Learning and Development

If organizations are to embed the principles of positive psychology within their organizations, there will need to be a shift in thinking for HR and Learning and Development (L & D) practitioners. This will mean that for some, there will be a need to move away from some of the approaches that they may have spent years introducing and embedding. This being so, what would be the reasons for HR and L & D practitioners to make this change?

Increasing evidence shows that macro-level measures of employee well-being are positively related to performance, while workplace practices designed to enhance employee well-being deliver significant return on investment in terms of profitability and (p. 327) other desired business outcomes. For example, meta-analytic research on the often doubted “happy worker = productive worker” hypothesis shows consistently significant relationships (r = 0.3; Judge et al., 2001); employees who report more positive than negative emotional states receive higher performance ratings (Wright & Staw, 1999); and more satisfied workers are more co-operative, helpful, punctual, and time-efficient, take fewer absences, and stay longer with their organizations (Spector, 1997).

In one of the most authoritative studies to date, Harter, Schmidt, and Keyes (2003) analyzed the Gallup Workplace Audit results of nearly 200,000 respondents in over 8,000 business units, showing that business-unit outcomes—such as employee turnover, customer loyalty, productivity, and profitability—are influenced by the way that managers influence and address the issues of employee well-being and engagement. Workplaces with engaged employees are better at retaining their employees, satisfying customers, and being productive and profitable. For example, business units in the top quartile on employee engagement had 3 percent higher customer loyalty, up to 29 percent lower staff turnover, $162k higher revenue or sales, and produced up to 4 percent more profit than units in the lowest quartile. Harter et al. concluded that satisfying human needs in the workplace, such as clarifying desired outcomes and providing opportunities for individual fulfillment and growth, contributes to the success of the organization (see also Wagner & Harter, 2006).

A recent evaluation of a strengths-based recruitment process, introduced by Norwich Union Insurance, also revealed that new-hire attrition halved in the first six-month period that recruiting for strengths was introduced (Stefanyszyn, 2007). Further, evaluations of the quality delivered to customers from the strengths-recruits versus the competencies-recruits, saw the strengths-recruits score significantly higher than their competencies-recruited colleagues (Stefanyszyn, 2007). The results of this study also illustrate the critical role of piloting positive psychology methods against the procedures or processes that the organization already has in place.

Through the chapters included in this Oxford Handbook, it is clear to see the potential of positive psychology applications to all stages of the employee lifecycle. The journey for the HR and L & D experts will be one where they will need to evaluate the degree to which they would wish their organizations to become positive workplaces. As part of this journey, they will have to evaluate systems and procedures with a view to which are conducive to a positive organization.

The systems and practices requiring consideration would likely include attraction, recruitment, induction, performance management, talent management, employee engagement, leadership development, pay and reward, diversity and inclusion, disciplinary and grievance procedures, exit interviews, and outplacement—quite simply, positive psychological approaches to work have implications for virtually every stage of the employee life-cycle (Linley & Page, 2007). While on paper this might appear like a significant gear shift, all of the organizations with which we have worked in our consulting practice consider it to be a rewarding journey upon which to embark, both for the organizations and the individual employees that it touches, and both in terms of organizational financial performance and personal and social fulfilment.

Positive Psychology and Leaders

Like their HR and Learning Development colleagues, business leaders are also developing strategies for a future workplace that is going to be remarkably different to anything that has been before (Chartered Management Institute, 2008). In the next 10 years, leaders will be expected to work with significantly diverse populations, where the age profile will be broader than it has ever been before. Technology will continue to change the way that we work and conduct business. The combination of diverse employee needs, changes in technology, and turbulent markets will all mean an adaptation of leadership style and skill set.

Research is showing, however, that meeting the needs of employees may be simpler than we would anticipate. A 7-year study of more than 3,000 corporate leaders, by the Center for Creative Leadership, found that employees of all ages want similar things from their work, and that they share common values about what matters most—namely, family, respect, and trust (Deal, 2006). Across the chapters in this Oxford Handbook that examine positive psychology and leadership, there are also a number of reoccurring themes that offer a suggestion of what is required from future leaders.

Authentic leadership is not an exclusive theme of positive psychology, but it is a recently researched phenomenon. Part of this increased interest in authenticity has likely been born out of society's and the employee's search for meaning and ethics. There has never been more of a requirement for the employee to want to be led by a leader that they trust—likely (p. 328) reflecting increasing social disconnectedness and also the recent scandals of corporate America (Bennis, Goleman, OʼToole, & Biederman, 2008). And it is not just employees who are seeking out the morality of the leaders: consumers are also more driven to purchase from companies and leaders who they consider demonstrate ethics and fairness (Hilton & Gibbons, 2002).

It is becoming increasingly recognized that leaders are what Naumann and Bennett (2000) have described as “climate engineers.” That is, whether they like it or not, leaders and what they convey through their personality, values, beliefs, preferences, and behaviors, leave an indelible imprint on the character of the organizations they lead (Hogan, 2007). As highlighted by Morris and Garrett (Chapter 8, this volume), climate engineers do not just determine how the employees that they touch will grow and develop—their shadow will also extend to affect the brand, clients, and customers, together with their reach and perception into their communities and the wider world.

At CAPP, in our work with leaders, we have also seen the benefit of strengths-based development as a means of supporting leaders to develop their authenticity. As laid out in Linley's (2008) definition of strengths, a key outcome is authenticity. This definition, based on research conducted by Govindji and Linley (2007), revealed that participants who used their strengths more experienced higher levels of authenticity. It is for this reason that we believe that strengths identification can enhance authentic leadership development.

This strengths knowledge can be achieved through various means, including strengths assessments, systematic observation of the activities that strengthen you versus those that weaken you, or watching out for the telltale signs of strengths through what we have called “strengthspotting” (Linley, 2008). In our experience, this type of identification activity has achieved the most significant results when it has been part of a team or individual coaching program (see, e.g., Woolston & Linley, 2008).

Going hand-in-hand with the development of leadership authenticity, has been the research highlighting the benefits of leaders who evoke positive emotion. Richardson and West (Chapter 19, this volume) highlight several of the benefits of supportive leaders who inspire, provide role clarity, orchestrate effective interdependent working, provide high levels of positive feedback, and coach team members to improve performance. They bring a positive, confident, and optimistic orientation to the team, and encourage positive relationships (West, 2004).

But the one area which may be considered as almost the exclusive preserve of the leader (indeed, often a distinguishing feature between leadership and management) is that of strategy development and implementation. Earlier in this chapter, we stressed the importance of psychologists' supporting organizations in developing the strategy and outcomes that they are seeking to achieve in developing a positive organization, and ensuring that positive psychology and strengths-based interventions are explicitly linked to the delivery of these strategic objectives.

The importance of strategy cannot be underestimated when discussing the leadership role in a positive organization. Wooten and Cameron (Chapter 5, this volume) state that, from a Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) perspective, at the core of strategy is a work culture that enables collective resourcefulness and generative dynamics that lead to positive states or outcomes (Barney, 1986; Dutton & Glynn, 2007). Research has also shown the benefit of leaders using an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) methodology, in order to co-create a vision-based strategy (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005).

In our work at CAPP, we have supported organizations in developing their strengths-based and positive organization strategy, through combining both the principles of strengths-based development with the key components of A.I. We have found that this blended approach helps to build leaders' and organizations' confidence, creativity, and aspirations, together with considering their strategy in light of their individual and collective strengths. The alignment of their collective strengths to the strategy that they have developed as a team leads to significant buy-in, goal orientation, and delivery.

Positive Psychology and Managers

While it is the leadership team who set strategy, it is often the managers who translate the leaders' organizational strategy into team objectives. As many of the chapters in this Oxford Handbook show, the manager is often the linchpin in determining whether organizations succeed in becoming truly positive places to work.

Unsurprisingly, it is the employee's direct manager who is most likely to impact upon the employee's satisfaction with their job, perception of the wider organization, and levels of engagement (Buckingham & Coffman, 2001; Harter & Blacksmith, Chapter 10, this volume; Stairs & Galpin, Chapter 13, this volume). As has been (p. 329) widely quoted, people don't leave jobs, they leave managers. An employee's relationship with their manager affects levels of job satisfaction, productivity, demonstrations of discretionary effort, and engagement (ISR, 2004). An employee may join a company because of the prestige and reputation of the organization, but their relationship with their immediate manager determines how long they will stay productive, and ultimately how long they will stay with the organization (Buckingham & Coffman, 2001). In a positive organization, the manager is critical in being able to gauge the emotional atmosphere of a team, spotting the strengths of team members, as well as seeking out challenging and meaningful tasks.

In our work with organizations applying positive psychology principles, it is often the managers who feel intuitively as though positive psychology and strengths-based approaches are the right thing to do. However, when people talk to managers about academic concepts like Fredrickson's “broaden and build” theory, and a three-to-one ratio of positive and negative interactions, managers are often left feeling unclear about what they should be doing—the translation from academia to practice is always so important. Sekerka and Fredrickson (Chapter 7, this volume) offer useful advice to managers seeking to develop positive emotions and strengths within a team. It is important that managers themselves consider the impact that their own behaviors and reactions to events have on the atmosphere of their immediate team. Several of the chapters in this volume highlight the impact of contagious emotion (e.g., Higgs, Chapter 6, this volume; Sekerka & Fredrickson, Chapter 7, this volume). As managers keep their own behaviors in check, they should also try to observe the teams that they are working with, in order to ensure that no one team member's negative emotion or behavior is impacting negatively on their fellow teammates.

On this basis, there are a number of ways in which a manager can help to ensure that they are providing an environment where their employees can flourish and give their best to the organization. As laid out by Page, Govindji, Carter, and Linley (2008), these include:

Being mindful. Good managers practice the discipline of mindfulness (see also Marianetti & Passmore, Chapter 15, this volume). This means that throughout the day, they take time to remain conscious of the emotional environment and atmosphere that they are creating.

Acknowledging strengths. People are often unaware of what they are good at. Managers should acknowledge to employees when they have observed them demonstrating a strength. By doing this, the manager will naturally help to nurture the employee's strengths, in addition to highlighting to the individual that they are truly interested in them as a person, as well as what they can bring to the organization.

Realizing strengths. There are a number of simple ways in which managers can utilize the strengths in their teams at a task level. First, this requires managers to operate at a more strategic level, managing more as a “chess” player than as a “checkers” player; that is, by identifying and leveraging the unique attributes of each employee, rather than treating all employees as being from the same mold.

Employees are more likely to flourish when they are given tasks and activities which challenge them to grow, develop their strengths, and demand a high variety of skill. This requires managers to understand the unique strengths that individuals in the team possess. With this in mind, managers need to delegate tasks that they know will help team members to practice deployment of their strengths; a concept that we define by borrowing the ancient Greek word “kratisto,” meaning “to the strongest.” Similarly, managers also need to provide the reasons why tasks need to be completed, and how they fit into the wider organizational context and corporate strategy.

Celebrating good work. Traditionally it is the things which we aren't good at, or didn't achieve, that tend to be remembered. Yet acknowledging good work and praising employees is equally, if not more, important. It is the responsibility of the manager, however, to decide how best to celebrate good work: different individuals have different preferences. One person may like the fanfare of public recognition, for another, this may be deeply embarrassing, and a sincere but private “thank you” would be far more appropriate and powerful. These considerations require the manager to individualize their approach according to what works for each member of the team: for some people, a simple verbal acknowledgement privately will hold as much meaning as a financial reward.

Regular and timely feedback. This is the backbone of developing a positive environment where trust and authenticity are nurtured. The feedback that managers need to be encouraged to provide should be authentic and delivered in real time. (p. 330) This “real-time” feedback offers the employee the opportunity to learn in the moment when they demonstrated the behavior, whether good or bad, thus serving to keep the employee on compass and on track as consistently as possible. Saving feedback for quarterly or annual performance appraisals does not assist strengths-based team development (West, 2003). In contrast, giving real-time feedback in the moment, whether positive or negative, can enable the building of a culture of honesty and trust. The result is not some “corporate utopia,” but rather an organization where everyone is clear on what is expected and what is acceptable, and any behaviors or actions that are “off compass” are quickly addressed before they can become toxic.

Taken together, these simple manager actions can be surprisingly effective in taking steps to build a more positive workplace for employees. Just as leaders are the climate engineers of the organization as a whole, managers are very much the climate engineers of their teams, and have both the responsibilities and the opportunities that come from such.

Positive Psychology and Individual Employees

The role of the individual within any organizational change initiative is complex, yet with positive psychology, this complexity seems to be amplified. It is worth noting that many organizations are motivated by creating more positive workplaces because of the bottom line benefits that these approaches promise to deliver. There is, however, a significant double-win because in introducing these approaches, employees themselves experience greater levels of energy, satisfaction, and well-being (Page & Carter, in press).

In our view, it is important to be transparent and explicit about these “double agendas” for the introduction of positive psychology into organizational life, since the presence of one need in no way abnegate the value or intent of the other. Quite simply, with positive psychology and strengths-based approaches, it is possible to have management practices that deliver positive outcomes for both organizations and the individuals within them—and so we should be pursuing them all the more vigorously.

To this end, first, we should be explicit that a positive organization, while morally the right thing to do, also is likely to deliver a financial benefit. Second, with regard to strengths realization and the enhancement of positive emotions, it is important to recognize that none of these things can happen without the employees' buy-in and participation, together with organizational support (through aligned processes and procedures, for example). If these new ways of working are to be effective, employees need to be able to understand, accept, and trust the new approach, together with the reasons for adopting it, before they will be prepared genuinely to commit to the change. Third, psychologists, consultants, HR and L & D practitioners, leaders, and managers, should not view positive psychology as a potential panacea pill for unethical practice, long working hours, or any other potential negative factor impacting the organization, whereby the introduction of positive psychology approaches will magically make these challenges disappear. Positive psychology is not a panacea for all modern organizational ills, but it does provide interventions and approaches that can be powerfully effective in removing them.

As Stairs and Galpin explore in their chapter on employee engagement (Chapter 13, this volume), we might actually find that a construct such as employee engagement can be understood by reference to an explanatory model that follows the same principles as have been established for happiness (e.g., Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005)—namely, that a (large) proportion of engagement is an individual difference, a (large) proportion is within employees' conscious control through their deliberate attitudes and actions, and a (smaller) proportion is affected directly by their working environment and circumstances. If this is so, organizations may wish to re-consider the extent to which they believe they can directly impact employees' levels of engagement, focusing more on the nature of the employees themselves. Ultimately, we may arrive at a point where this leads us to consider selecting for individual difference factors, such as engagement, in a similar way as we might for intelligence, competencies, strengths, or team-fit.

If it is indeed the case that much more of an employee's engagement is within their personal locus of control, then employees themselves are likely to benefit from knowing this and become enlightened on what this might mean for them. For example, it is often the case that employees do not think about their own personal role in ensuring that they feel engaged and that they get to use their strengths at work. It is our view that employees should be developed so that they understand and reflect on the significant factors that might determine their happiness, well-being, and job satisfaction—with their attitude to engagement, their personal responsibility, and the amount to which they use their strengths being important factors here. This in (p. 331) turn will have wider social implications, in that it will impact positively on employees' well-being outside of work, thereby providing a larger social benefit of organizations engaging with more positive working practices—an example of corporate responsibility that starts very much within the organization, but with beneficent ripples spreading far beyond it.

While we should be mindful of shifting the entire burden of responsibility for performance onto employees' shoulders, organizations may be encouraged to know that the engagement equation is more balanced than has traditionally been considered, and employees may similarly be encouraged by the recognition that they are not powerless recipients of the experience of organizational life, but instead more active agents in how they create their own engagement climate at work.

Positive Psychology, Positive Organizations, and Good Business for a Better World

So far, our explorations of positive psychology have tended to be at the individual, team, and organizational levels. But there is another—wider—sphere in which we believe the mindset and approach of positive psychology applied to the world of work can have a substantial and even more sustainable impact: positive psychology as a force for social change, with organizations as the implementing agents of that social change.

Just as positive psychology is both reflective and enabling of wider cultural trends—the zeitgeist of or times (Linley, Joseph, Harrington, & Wood, 2006)—so too is the increasing attention being paid to business as a potential enabler of social change. For example, Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his introduction of micro-finance through Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, has recently made the case that his work at Grameen—including a recent joint social business venture with Groupe Danone to produce a nutritional yogurt in Bangladesh—can be understood in the context of a wider business revolution, the emergence of social business (Yunus, 2008). Social businesses (of which CAPP is one) operate as traditional businesses with the exception that their focus is not on maximizing returns to stockholders, but instead on maximizing their social impact—in CAPP's case, through Strengthening the World.

In the academic world, David Cooperrider and the Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit, part of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University (see are exemplary.

Building on his discovery and development of appreciative inquiry, Cooperrider and his team are now using this characteristic methodology of the abundance approach to turn their attention to how organizations specifically and business generally can be deployed as an agent of world benefit, providing corporations with the tools and techniques to “do well by doing good” (Laszlo, 2008).

Of course, it is very early in the emergence of both positive psychology and social business to predict exactly how the two will develop or how they may influence and interact with each other. But given that both have emerged as responses to the same shifting economic, cultural, and commercial zeitgeist, there are grounds for optimism. We live in a world where old paradigms are being torn up and new ones are rapidly emerging to replace them—whether it's the “war on terror” instead of the “cold war,” online social networking instead of meeting at the pub, e-mail instead of snail mail, collaborative wikinomics instead of competitive economics, strengths-based organization instead of competency-based organization, positive psychology instead of traditional psychology—wherever we look, it's clear that change is all around us, and it's happening with greater speed, greater impact, and greater disruption than ever before. We hope that through the chapters of this Oxford Handbook, we have been able to shine some light on the contributions that positive psychology has made, is making, and can make to this emerging new world of work.

Directions for Research

  • What are the factors and approaches that are predictive of the successful embedding and sustainability of introducing strengths-based approaches?

  • To date, research has demonstrated a number of performance-enhancing effects of strengths-based approaches to organization, in relation to recruitment, engagement, leadership development, and change programs. An ambitious organizational research program is required to explore if, and how, organizations that are wholly strengths-based are able to outperform their deficit-based peers.

  • Can researchers demonstrate an organizational value chain, whereby adopting strengths-based positive psychology approaches enables increased individual well-being and performance, improved organizational performance, and through the interaction of these, enhanced social contribution through happier employees and increased corporate responsibility and corporate social action?

(p. 332) Implications for Practice

  • The modern organizational climate is markedly different from that which has prevailed over the last sixty years. Employees are increasingly looking for work that allows them to use their strengths and is aligned with their values, rather than a job for life or just a means to a paycheck at the end of the month. Organizational design and human resource practices need to shift to reflect this emerging new reality.

  • The opportunity is ripe for truly innovative organizations to make the commitment to becoming fully strengths-based and abundance-focused in their ways of working. Pioneering organizations are experimenting and implementing elements of strengths-based practices, but no major organization has yet embraced strengths-based abundance approaches from top to bottom.

  • Positive psychology in the world of work not only has the potential to add much value to the understanding, motivation, and management of employees, but also to provide a wider corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability perspective on how organizations are run, and with what ends in mind. Drawing as they do from many different areas of influence, positive psychology practitioners working in organizations have before them the opportunity to shape a new form of organization that is able to respond to the new economic, social, cultural, and environmental challenges of the modern age—whether that is a traditional profit-oriented business with a social conscience, or one of the emerging social businesses. Let us seize the moment in doing so.


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